Saturday, January 01, 2011

Thought Boxes Revisited

Last month, I presented a puzzle that I asserted a bright first grader would find easier to solve than a bright well-educated adult.

One would think that education and experience would be advantages that should make solving any puzzle easier, not harder.

Not necessarily true.

Such is definitely not the case with the "OTTFFSSEN" puzzle, which is more easily solved with an open, uncluttered, "beginner's mind" than with a trained, sophisticated, educated mind.

One of the characteristics of human intelligence is that as it becomes more and more educated, more and more experienced, it "learns" to craft specialized shortcuts (generalized assumptions or "boxes") that increase the probability of quickly finding dependable answers to questions and viable solutions to problems.

Normally, this is a good idea. Sometimes, however, it isn't.

This is one of those times.

An adult assumes unconsciously that the "OTTFFSSEN" puzzle I presented last month must have a complicated solution, since if it didn't, it wouldn't merit consideration or attention in the first place. Unfortunately, this puzzle has a very simple solution, so looking for a complex one guarantees much needless frustration, at best. The adult's unconscious aversion to thinking "outside the box" dooms him or her to failure.

A bright young child, however, makes no such assumption of necessary complexity, and since he or she has only really studied two things thus far in school, letters (early spelling) and numbers, easily notices the pattern in the given letters:


The answer to the puzzle, therefore, is of course:


(Click here to go to Part 1.)


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